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Maryland Prosecutor Criticized in Freddie Gray Case

After two trials and no convictions, Baltimore’s top prosecutor faces criticism that she moved too quickly to file charges against six officers in the case involving a 25-year-old Black man who died a week after he was critically injured in police custody, triggering protests and riots a year ago.

Even the judge overseeing the cases – in his verdict Monday acquitting the latest officer to stand trial in the death of Freddie Gray – said the state failed to prove its case on any of the charges.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams acquitted Officer Edward Nero of the assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment charges in connection with Gray’s arrest outside a West Baltimore housing complex.

Gray died on April 19, 2015, a week after his neck was broken while handcuffed, shackled, but left unrestrained by a seat belt in the back of a police van. The circumstances of his arrest and his death triggered protests demanding justice for Gray. On the day of his funeral, rioting and looting broke out. The National Guard responded, and a curfew was imposed.

30-year-old Nero, a white Baltimore police officer, was the second of six officers charged. The manslaughter case against Officer William Porter ended in a mistrial when the jury deadlocked. Prosecutors plan to retry him in September.

Williams delivered his verdict in the racially charged case before a packed courtroom Monday. Nero’s parents and his brother sat in the front row; a few rows away, Gray’s stepfather. Noticeably absent, however, was State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who was present when Williams declared a mistrial in the trial for Porter in December.

After announcing charges against the officers last May – one day after receiving the police department’s investigation while a tense city was still under curfew – Mosby did not shy from the spotlight. She posed for magazine photos, sat for TV interviews and even appeared onstage at a Prince concert in Gray’s honor.

Mosby spokeswoman Rochelle Ritchie, citing a gag order in the case, declined comment.

David Weinstein, a Florida attorney and former federal civil rights prosecutor, said the verdict will probably serve as a “wake-up call” for prosecutors.

“This speaks to the notion a lot of people had when this first happened, which is that it was a rush to judgment,” Weinstein said. “The state’s attorney was trying to balance what she had with the public outcry and call to action given the climate in Baltimore and across the U.S. concerning policing, and I think she was overreaching.”

Although the judge’s ruling referred specifically to Nero’s case – the other officers will be tried separately for their alleged roles – he rejected nearly every claim the state made at trial, repeatedly telling prosecutors they’d failed to prove any of the counts beyond a reasonable doubt.

Prosecutors had argued that Nero and colleague Garrett Miller illegally detained and arrested Gray without probable cause, and that Nero was reckless when he failed to buckle Gray into a seat belt during the van’s second stop blocks from the arrest.